Around October 25, several prominent social media users claimed that a Kerala-based woman Thushara Ajith was attacked by a group of Muslim fanatics due to non-compliance with Halal in her hotel. BJP Kerala’s president K Surendran made the same claim on Twitter. He wrote, “What happened in Kakkanad is nothing less than Talibanism. I urge the people of Kerala to reject #HalalInvasion”

Other BJP members who posted the claim include politician Sandeep Vachaspati, Anoop J (2K RTs) and CT Ravi. Rahul Easwar who identifies as a ‘Hindu activist’ also shared the claim (later deleted the tweet and apologised).

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Several media outlets shared this claim including Malayalam-language news outlets Kurukshethra, Bharathlive, and Marunadan TV; mainstream media outlets such as The Times of India, India Times, NewsTrack Live and Zee News; and pro-BJP propaganda outlets such as OpIndia, RSS mouthpiece Organiser, Kreately and The Hindu Post.

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Posts on the same topic by columnist Shefali Vaidya (3.8K RTs), BJP supporter Arun Pudur and FB user ജിതിൻ ജെ കുറുപ്പ് (1,2) gained high engagement.

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FACT-CHECK

What was the dispute?

Halal food is that which adheres to Islamic law, as defined in the Quran. It is typically associated with how animals are slaughtered prior to processing meat. More details about it can be read at the website of Halal Food Authority, a non-profit organisation that monitors adherence to halal principles, and this 2014 BBC report.

In January, Kerala Kaumudi (KK) reported, Thushara whose full name is Thushara Ajith Kallayil, started the first ‘anti-halal’ restaurant in Kerala called ‘Nandu’s Kitchen’. It is located at Vennala near Medical Center in Ernakulam. Thushara told KK, “The board was set up because some avoided food for the sole reason that it is not halal, which was annoying.”

The News Minute reported that the police informed that a scuffle took place between two shop owners on the eve of October 24. One party involved Thushara, her husband Ajith and some other men. The other group comprised Nakul, one of the other shop owners, and Binoj George.

Both Thushara (FIR 1290/21) and George (FIR 1289/21) filed a police complaint on October 24. Kerala-based journalist Zayan Asif translated the FIRs to English for Alt News.

According to George, Nakul operated a chaat stall outside his cafe (Dine Restro Cafe). He was informed that the stall was allegedly removed by Thushara and her husband. Upon questioning Thushara, a scuffle broke. He was allegedly slapped by her and another man who purportedly slashed Nakul’s hand and attacked his leg using a knife. This FIR was registered at Sunrise Hospital where both were hospitalised. The IPC sections listed are 323 [Punishment for voluntarily causing hurt.], 324 [Voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means], 326 [Voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means] and 34 [Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention].

However, as per Thushara, Nakul and an unnamed person (George) allegedly came to their restaurant (Nandu’s) and started a verbal altercation. She claimed they subsequently hit her on the head and when she threatened to report to the police, Nakul allegedly grabbed at her sari and blouse and partially disrobed her. Shortly after, the unnamed person allegedly hit her on the stomach and that’s when her staff member came with a kitchen knife and attacked Nakul. As per her statement, she offered Nakul and George a ride to the hospital. The IPC sections listed are 354 [Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty], 323 [Punishment for voluntarily causing hurt.]; 294 (b) [sings, recites or utters any obscene song, ballad or words], and 34 [Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention]. It is worth noting that Thushara has not mentioned that she was attacked by “Jihadists” in her statement but she did make this claim on social media (later discussed in the article).

Kochi city police commissioner Nagaraju Chakilam told Alt News, “The incident of October 24 is not related to the ‘No-Halal’ board and the violence was not communal. It was purely a civil dispute. As of now, Thushara and Ajith are hiding from the police. Based on our progress in the investigation, they will be arrested soon.” On October 28, Infopark police shared a Malayalam report based on their investigations (view PDF). Police wrote in their report that this was a calculated attack by Thushara, her husband and their accomplices. Thushara’s husband Ajith is accused in several cases in the Cheranallur police station, including the Imtiaz murder case. Alt News found a 2017 TOI report that has named Ajith as one of seven accused in the murder of one Imtiaz Khan, a real estate businessman.

Kochi city police commissioner Nagaraju Chakilam shared CCTV footage that shows Thushara and her associates. One of them damaged the CCTV at the 0:58 mark.

How was the communal spin added?

On October 25, Thushara shared nine Facebook Lives (at 8:41, 8:53, 9:13, 9:54, 9:58, 10:38, 10:46, 14:51, 14:52). In these videos, various claims have been made. Kochi city police commissioner Nagaraju Chakilam told TNM that there is no communal angle as portrayed by Thushara and others on social media. “Basically, there exists a multipartite civil dispute over leases, subleases, etc. The scuffles, the alleged theft of furniture items etc, are over claiming rights of the commercial space. Complaints given at the police station are all indicative of the above and any other versions getting circulated in social media are just to pressurise and channel police action for or against a particular party,” he said.

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Alt News spoke with another person fluent in Malayalam who said that around the 1-minute mark in the first Facebook Live, Thushara claimed that “jihadis” along with “communalised/ commi Hindus” tried to attack her.

 

To sum it up, a scuffle between restaurant owner Thushara Ajith and others with Nakul and Binoj George in Kochin’s InfoPark area was reported as a communal incident based on misleading claims by Thushara on social media. Several Kerala-based media outlets and BJP members including Kerala BJP president K Surendran amplified the claim. While viral claims attempted to build a narrative against Muslims, the reality was completely different.

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About the Author

Archit is a fact-checking journalist at Alt News since November 2019. Previously, he has worked as a producer at a TV news channel and as a reporter at a leading English-language daily. In addition to work experience in media, he has also worked as a fundraising and communication manager at an NGO.